On July 1, Seth’s Law (AB9) and AB1156 became a reality and California schools are now required to enact anti-bullying policies. The law enacts a timeline that school officials must follow when investigating student claims of bullying and allows students to request district transfers when appropriate and timely changes are not made. Some young adults in Orange County are making sure that teens feel empowered to cite these laws if they experience bullying or discrimination. And they have some famous friends helping them including Betty DeGeneres, Ellen’s mom.
The young adults created a PSA featuring young adults from Orange County and Betty DeGeneres to educate students on Seth’s Law.
On April 3, 2012, Kearian Giertz , then a senior at Fullerton Union High in Fullerton California, was a contestant in the school’s annual “Mr. Fullerton Pageant”. During the pageant’s interview portion, he was asked, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Kearian responded to this question by discussing the awards that he hopes to win someday and then added that he hoped in ten years marriage equality would be legal so he could marry the man of his dreams. As he was speaking, a school administrator attempted to have the sound cut from his microphone. When Kearian left the stage, the administrator approached him, asked why he would say that, and disqualified him from the competition.
Immediately after the incident took place, Kearian’s classmates, Blake Danford and Katy Hall started a letter writing campaign, evoking the question "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" and added their vision of what is needed to create safe and supportive schools. The story went viral and Kearian, Blake and Katy found themselves all over the news speaking out about the bullying that they had faced in school.
You can read their letter here. YETA letters have been signed by Betty DeGeneres, Molly Shannon, Perez Hilton, Dianna Agron, Tabatha Coffey, Jennifer Tyrrell, and more.
When the youth services director from Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County (The Center OC) contacted Kearian, Blake and Katy about how they might help support their campaign, they teamed up with Justin McCoy and Youth Empowered to Act (YETA). The Center OC’s YETA, a group of LGBTQ youth leaders between the ages of 14-24, focus on social change through leadership development, community organizing, advocacy and advocacy.
The letter that Kearian, Blake and Katy started became the foundation for YETA’s comprehensive student led program to inform students, faculty and administrators about California’s school laws, provide support and advocacy for students, and create safe schools in Orange County and beyond. The YETA Campaign offers school principals the opportunity to improve school climates by engaging students and staff in learning about bullying, school laws, and available resources. The YETA youth will use school safety surveys, anti-bully pledges, “I Know School Laws” information cards, a “bully hotline” and educational workshops to increase awareness and decrease bullying and discrimination.
YETA youth have now attended and spoke about their campaign at the GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles. The connections they made landed them a trip to the GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco. The youth recently received an award for Harvey Milk Day from the City of Santa Ana and hosted local Congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez, last week to discuss bullying. In May, YETA youth met with Wendy Walsh, the mom of Seth Walsh, the young boy who died by suicide after years of being bullied for being gay. Wendy has been a driving force behind the new anti-bullying laws in California schools, AB9 (Seth’s Law) and AB1156.
Additionally, stories from youth involved in YETA are being published all this week on Huffington Post Gay Voices and Youth Voices. These posts written by YETA young adults recount why these laws are important to them. They tell heartbreaking stories of bullying and hopeful stories of organizing to make a difference.
“After the GLAAD media awards in Los Angeles, where we were given the opportunity to present our campaign, a little girl who couldn’t have been any older that eleven or twelve walked up to me with tears in her eyes,” Blake Danford recalls in his essay. “‘Thank you for everything you all have done for people like me... Thank you so much’ she managed to say. She took another step toward me and put her arms out, asking for a hug. I pulled her into my arms, with tears welling up in my eyes. At that moment, I realized we really were something to be proud of.”
The Center OC’s Youth Program Director Laura Kanter and the young adults involved in YETA are changing the game for all LGBTQ young people. Check out their stories here and add your voice to support Seth’s Law and other anti-bully laws to make schools safe for all students. For more information about YETA, check out their new website here http://yetaoc.moonfruit.com/.